Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Houston Area Pastors Council

World’s worst pastors file suit against Austin’s equal rights ordinance

Exactly what you’d expect from these jerks.

A Houston-based religious nonprofit behind the so-called bathroom bill is suing the City of Austin over its anti-discrimination hiring ordinance. The U.S. Pastor Council filed suit in a federal district court late last week, alleging the city rule’s lack of exemptions for churches or other religiously affiliated groups violates state and federal law.

The suit asks the court to block the enforcement of the ordinance on behalf of its 25 member churches in the Austin area “because these member churches rely on the Bible rather than modern-day cultural fads for religious and moral guidance, they will not hire practicing homosexuals or transgendered people as clergy.”

In a June letter to the Austin City Council, Executive Director David Welch reasoned that the ordinance didn’t provide wide enough berth for religious exemption – and that Catholic churches refusing to hire women as priests or “homosexuals as clergy” would be violating the city law.

“These are the stingiest religious exemptions we have ever seen in an anti-discrimination law,” Welch wrote. “It is inexcusable that you would purport to subject a church’s hiring decisions to your city’s antidiscrimination ordinance.”

In a written statement today, the city defended its anti-discrimination ordinance.

“The ordinance reflects our values and culture respecting the dignity and rights of every individual,” said city spokesperson David Green. “We are prepared to vigorously defend the City against this challenge to the City’s civil rights protections.”

There’s a copy of the lawsuit embedded in the story. This is all transparent bullshit, but that’s par for the course with these clowns. The good news is that the good guys aren’t worried about this, or the accompanying state lawsuit that was also filed.

Texas Values, another conservative Christian organization, filed a separate, broader lawsuit in state district court, also on Saturday, seeking to invalidate the ordinance as it applies to both employment and housing decisions.

[…]

Texas Values’ lawsuit also invokes the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says that, in general, governments cannot “substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion.”

“The city of Austin’s so-called anti-discrimination laws violate the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by punishing individuals, private businesses and religious nonprofits, including churches, for their religious beliefs on sexuality and marriage,” Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

[…]

“These lawsuits certainly highlight a coordinated effort among people who want to target LGBTQ people in court,” said Paul Castillo, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, an advocacy firm for LGBTQ rights.

Castillo said he has not examined Texas Values’ suit but that the city of Austin “is on solid legal ground” in the U.S. Pastor Council lawsuit.

“In order to walk into court, you have to demonstrate some sort of injury,” Castillo said. “It doesn’t appear that the city of Austin is enforcing or has enforced its anti-discrimination laws in a way that would infringe upon these religions.”

He added that the timing of the lawsuits is “certainly suspect” as groups attempt to politicize LGBTQ issues ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

Jason Smith, a Fort Worth employment lawyer, said he expects both lawsuits to “go nowhere.” He points to former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which Smith said made it clear that religious beliefs do not justify discrimination.

Still, he said people should be “worried by the repeated attempts to limit the Supreme Court’s announcement that the Constitution protects gays and lesbians.”

There is currently no statewide law that protects LGBTQ employees from discrimination, but San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth have nondiscrimination ordinances similar to Austin’s. Smith said the other cities will be watching how the lawsuits in Austin unfold and that some cities may even file briefs to make the court aware of their positions.

Good to know, but as always it all comes down to what the judges make of it. I guess I have more faith in the federal courts at this point than our state courts, at least at the higher levels, but we’ll see. ThinkProgress has more.

Pastoral malignancy

Know your enemy.

A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.

For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.

But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.

“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.

Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.

The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.

“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”

[…]

With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”

“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”

First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.

As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.

What will the business lobby do to prevent a North Carolina anti-equality law being passed in Texas?

That’s the question that needs to be asked.

RedEquality

Texas business leaders and LGBT advocates hope economic backlash over an anti-LGBT bill in North Carolina will deter lawmakers from taking up similar legislation next year in Austin.

More than 100 CEOs and business leaders, including Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, sent a letter this week to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory calling on the General Assembly to repeal House Bill 2, which he signed last week.

The bill prohibits cities from enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, and bars transgender people from using restrooms and other facilities according to their gender identity.

Similar measures were introduced in Texas last year, but died without hearings.

“We certainly don’t want Texas to appear to be unwelcoming for future talent, and that’s what I think we’ll get if something like North Carolina’s bill is taken up by our Legislature,” said Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the state’s chamber of commerce.

Last year, TAB came out against a sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill, but didn’t take a position on proposals to ban local nondiscrimination ordinances or restrict restroom access for trans people. However, Wallace said TAB’s board may consider doing so at a September meeting where it will set its legislative agenda for 2017.

“Talent availability is the number one issue among businesses today in Texas,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we have future employees, and we don’t need any issues like this getting in our way.”

[…]

After more than 20 anti-LGBT bills were defeated in Texas last year, socially conservative groups criticized the business community for opposing them. And last week, Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch responded to corporate backlash in North Carolina by calling the TAB opposition to anti-LGBT bills “huffing and puffing,” and described boycotts as “economic terrorism.”

“We stand with the pastors and legislators in North Carolina and our commitment is that we will defend what is right, decent, honorable and good for all citizens in Texas, including necessary legislation to defend our liberty and our families,,” Welch wrote in an email to the council’s members.

It would be nice to think that the backlash in North Carolina will be swift and severe enough to dissuade most legislators from even thinking about following down that path, but it’s clear that the zealots don’t care about any of that. What I hope is clear from that is that the business community comes to realize that being on the same side as those guys – in particular, supporting the same legislative candidates as those guys – will not work out well for them. Which brings me to the question of what are they going to do about that? To be fair, there’s not that much that can be done this year. Primaries are over, there are only a handful of runoffs to be decided, and as we know there aren’t that many competitive districts in November. That’s unfortunate, because the one message that is always received clearly is losing an election. Democrats should still make this an issue in their races, if only to offer clarity. If the business lobby doesn’t then deliver a few horse’s heads a the start of the next legislative session, then as with the immigration issue I don’t see why we should take their oft-expressed concerns seriously. They can do something about this if they want to. If they don’t, that tells you what you need to know.

What next for HERO?

Before I get into some thoughts about how to approach a second attempt at passing a non-discrimination ordinance for Houston, let me begin by dispensing with this.

HoustonUnites

2. HERO Will Be Back

The lopsided defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) will send the next mayor and city council back to the drawing board at the start of 2016. They would be expected to, in relatively short order, pass a new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that is very similar to the ordinance that was just repealed, with one principal exception. The revised version of the ordinance would modify the public accommodation component of the repealed ordinance so that it does not apply to discrimination based on biological sex in regard to access to private facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers.

A relatively expeditious passage of this revised equal rights ordinance would ameliorate, though not entirely erase, the short-term negative impact of the lopsided “No” victory on Houston’s image nationwide. The rapid adoption of this new ordinance also would largely eliminate the risk of Houston losing conventions, sporting events, corporate relocations and corporate investment as a consequence of the Nov. 3 HERO repeal. And, since this new equal rights ordinance would address the principal public critique of the “No” campaign, it would be virtually bulletproof against any future repeal efforts.

All due respect, but that gives way way waaaaaaaaaaay too much credit to the leaders of the anti-HERO movement. The people behind this – Woodfill, Hotze, the Pastors Council – have a deep-seated loathing of Mayor Parker and the LGBT community in general, which is what drove their opposition to HERO. Changing the wording in the ordinance in this fashion would not suddenly turn them into fair-minded and honorable opponents who would have engaged in a debate on the merits of this law. That’s not who they are, that’s not what they do, and thinking that making some sort of “reasonable” accommodation to them would be rewarded with reasonable behavior on their part is as deeply naive as thinking that if President Obama had just tried to accommodate Republican concerns about the Affordable Care Act then no one would have ever screamed about death panels. The way to beat people like this is to make it clear to everyone watching that they are the raving lunatics we know them to be. If there’s a way to insert some legalese into HERO 2.0 to make it double secret illegal for anyone to harass and assault people in bathrooms while still providing protection for people who just need to pee to do their business, then fine. Do that for the sake of having the talking point. Just don’t fall for the idea that this somehow “takes the issue off the table” or forces the opposition to behave like rational beings.

Now on to the main discussion.

As supporters of Houston’s equal rights ordinance pieced together how the law came to suffer such an overwhelming defeat at the polls Tuesday, political scientists and even some campaign supporters pointed to what they said was a key misstep: poor outreach to black voters.

Majority black City Council districts were among those most decisively rejecting the law Tuesday, including District B and District D, where 72 percent and 65 percent of voters, respectively, opted to repeal the law. Overall, complete but unofficial results showed 61 percent of voters against the law and 39 percent for it.

Heading into the election, polling showed black voters, traditionally more socially conservative, were the most likely to be undecided on the issue, said Bob Stein, a Rice University political scientist.

In the same polling, supporters did best with black voters when they presented the argument that repealing the ordinance would jeopardize the city’s economy and events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA.

Well, Houston will not be getting the college football championship game in the next few years, though the committee making that decision says local politics had nothing to do with it. San Antonio’s bid for the game was also denied, so I’d tend to believe that. Neither the Final Four nor the Super Bowl appear to be going anywhere, which is what I would expect – these are big events that take a lot of time to plan and execute and thus aren’t easily relocated, and I never believed that NFL owners would embarrass a fellow member of their club like that. A big national outcry might have an effect, but I seriously doubt Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance is on enough people’s radar for that. While I do believe that the HERO rejection will make it harder for Houston to land events like these going forward – the NCAA spokesperson vaguely alluded to that in the statement about the Final Four – this was always my concern about making such specific claims, given that we had no control over them.

Monica Roberts, a transgender black woman and GLBT activist, called the Houston Unites effort a “whitewashed campaign” that failed to adequately respond to the bathroom issue and reach out to the black community in a meaningful way.

On her popular blog, TransGriot, she wrote that the warning signs that the law could go down by a significant margin were present early on.”

“The Black LGBT community and our allies have been warning for months that action was needed in our community IMMEDIATELY or else HERO was going down to defeat,” she wrote. “We pleaded for canvassing in our neighborhoods, pro-HERO ads on Houston Black radio stations and hard hitting attacks to destroy the only card our haters had to play in the bathroom meme.”

But even ads featuring Houston NAACP president James Douglas endorsing the ordinance were not enough to erode critics’ lead with black voters.

Douglas said he was hesitant to comment on what might have worked with black voters because he had not seen the results broken out by precinct.

“I’m not sure what supporters could have done,” Douglas said. “Most of the people I’ve talked to said it was all about the restroom fear. They literally see it as ‘I don’t want that to happen to someone that I know.'”

Councilman Jerry Davis, who represents the majority black District B that includes Fifth Ward and Acres Homes, said outreach in the black community was simply “way too little, way too late.”

Davis is among the 11 council members who voted in favor of the law. As he visited polling sites in his district Tuesday, he said residents’ skepticism about the ordinance had not budged during the past year.

“You can’t win this debate at the polls; it’s too late,” Davis said. “Voters were confused. They wanted to understand that this was an equal rights law, that it would help them. But instead they couldn’t get this visual out of their heads of a man entering a woman’s restroom. Opponents told that story over and over and over again until it was too late for Houston Unites.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said opponents were first out of the gates with their messaging, framing the debate around the bathroom issue, and supporters never caught up.

“The pro-HERO folks needed to have a public face much earlier than they did,” Rottinghaus said. “There was no personality to HERO, and I think that hurt the pro-HERO folks because it wasn’t clear what people were voting in favor of.”

This is the discussion now, and there was a lot of it happening behind the scenes before. I’m going to address it by talking about what I’d like to see happen for the next time.

By now we know that many African-American voters supported Sylvester Turner and voted against HERO. That’s disheartening, but it does provide a way forward. If elected, Mayor Turner would start out with a much higher level of trust and goodwill with these voters than Mayor Parker (who never received a significant level of support in African-American precincts) ever had. He will have an opening and an opportunity to bring forth another version of HERO (modified as needed with whatever legal mumbo-jumbo about bathrooms) and restart the discussion. This is how I would suggest going about it:

1. Acknowledge what happened, and assert the need to try again. I have no doubt that Sylvester Turner is capable of delivering a speech that acknowledges the problems with HERO that led to its defeat at the ballot box, while simultaneously emphasizing the need for our city to have an ordinance in place that does what HERO did. He could do this as part of his inaugural address, or he could wait for the State of the City in April, but sooner would be better than later. Acknowledge what happened, state the need for action, and call on everyone to join him.

2. Get out of City Hall and bring the conversation to the neighborhoods. Have a Council hearing in Acres Homes and/or Sunnyside. Have community meetings in multiple places all over the city (like Metro did with bus system reimagining) like multi-service centers and schools and wherever else is suitable, with some during the day and some in the evening and some on weekends to accommodate people’s work schedules. Have a brief presentation up front, then devote most of the time to letting the attendees speak so you can answer their questions and hear their concerns and address any good points they bring up that you hadn’t previously thought of. Mayor Turner himself needs to lead these meetings and make it clear that he supports doing this and is asking the people in attendance to join him. Note that I’m not just suggesting African-American neighborhoods for these meetings, either. Have them in Latino neighborhoods, and in Alief and out on Harwin and Bellaire Boulevard. Have plenty of folks who speak Spanish and Vietnamese and Chinese with you, and make sure any printed and electronic materials are multi-lingual as well. If we’re not talking to the people, we can’t complain if someone else is.

3. Roll out an advertising campaign along with this ongoing conversation. We know that the antis had a messaging advantage because they got their ads out first and we had to respond. They were already organized by the time the Supreme Court stuck their nose into things, while we had to get up and going from scratch. We can’t let that happen again. The next version of HERO needs to be sold from the beginning, so we can be the ones to set the tone and the message. In this day and age, that means setting up a PAC, tapping a few deep pockets to fund it, and getting going with the ads, for TV and radio and print and the Internet and whatever else you can think of. Treat it like a campaign, because that’s what it is. If the complaint from this election is that too many people didn’t know what HERO actually did, then this is the way to make sure that doesn’t happen with HERO 2.0. Be very clear and very thorough about who is protected, how it works, why we need it, and so forth. By all means, lean heavily on the business and economic argument, though as noted above be careful on the specifics. The lack of this kind of campaign has been a problem with lots of legislative initiatives in recent years – Obamacare and Renew Houston, for instance. There’s plenty of news about them while they’re being done, but the vast majority of communication to people who don’t consume a lot of news comes from opponents, not supporters. That can’t happen this time. Sell it like a new product coming to market, and sell the hell out of it.

4. Mayor Turner has to be the face of all this. Am I the only one who has noticed that Mayor Parker was largely invisible during the pro-HERO campaign? I’m sure some of that is because of a wholly understandable desire on her part to stay out of the Mayor’s race, and some of that was a strategic calculation that having her front and center would not be an asset in African-American neighborhoods. Whatever the case, this is the Mayor’s initiative, and the Mayor needs to be the focal point for it. Given that a lot of the people he would need to persuade to support this proposal are already supporters of his, there’s no other way to do this.

Now it may well be that a Mayor Turner will not be terribly enthusiastic about spending his time and political capital on this issue. There are plenty of other things on his to-do list, and there’s only so much time in the day/week/year. It’s going to be on HERO supporters to hold his feet to the fire and get him to devote time and energy to this. HERO may have lost this week, but Sylvester Turner isn’t going to win in December without a big showing from HERO proponents, and I’m sure he knows that. I’m sure he also knows that the business community is concerned and is expecting him to take action on this. The time to act is sooner rather than later, but it won’t happen without a push.

Does this guarantee a better outcome? Of course not. The haters will never go away, and some number of people we’d like to persuade won’t buy it. Some people will argue to wait till some undetermined later date when the things they deem to be higher priorities have been solved to their satisfaction, and others will come up with new and more egregious lies to tell. I’m sure there are things I’m not thinking of, and I’m sure some of the things I’m suggesting are much easier said than done. I think we all agree that for all the good work that Houston Unites and others did, there were things that could have been done differently. Some of that was a lack of time, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling. No one knew we needed to be prepared to wage a campaign like this. All I’m saying is that this time we do know, so we may as well start preparing for it. Danny Surman, who has another perspective on what happened, has more.

Pastors file a lawsuit over HERO

I have three things to say about this.

PetitionsInvalid

Organizers of the anti-Houston Equal Rights Ordinance petition have filed suit against Mayor Annise Parker, saying she and unnamed “conspirators” unconstitutionally rejected valid petition signatures and “smothered the Citizen Referendum Petition in the crib.” (Gotta love a lawsuit whose opening salvo includes infanticide imagery!).

Filed by four pastors, the suit comes on the heels of a Texas Supreme Court finding that Houston City Council should have put the HERO ordinance to referendum. The court suspended the ordinance and ordered Council to either repeal it or put it on the November ballot.

The pastors were against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance because, as their attorney Andy Taylor explains in a weird footnote, “that label is deceptive and false. Far from creating equality, ‘HERO’ creates special rights, not equal rights, for biological males to enter the public restrooms reserved for adult women, adolescent girls, and infants.”

The pastors are seeking compensation for civil rights violations, as well as court costs.

The suit alleges that “as a result of the hard work of all concerned, a successful referendum petition drive produced over 54,000 signatures on the Citizen Referendum Petition,” but that Parker and then-City Attorney David Feldman “wrongfully inserted themselves into the process…dared the public to challenge their decision in court if they did not agree with their rejection of the [petition], and arrogantly and illegally refused to obey their mandatory duties under the Houston City Charter.”

Moreover, the pastors say that Parker “[ran] roughshod over her veteran colleague City Secretary Anna Russell” and “trampled the voting rights of over a million voters in the fourth largest city in the United States of America in an unprecedented and colossal violation of every Houstonian’s civil rights.”

Here’s the Chron story on this, and here’s what I have to say:

1. These pastors are suing for court costs incurred in the lawsuit that they filed and lost to get the repeal referendum on the ballot. Usually, the losing side in a lawsuit bears the burden of court costs, including for the winning side. That Supreme Court ruling that will force HERO onto the ballot this fall was not a reversal of the district court ruling that declared the petition effort had fallen short, it was a ruling on a writ of mandamus that sought to bypass the district court entirely. I’m honestly not sure what the status of that case is now – there is an ongoing appeal as of last report – and I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t see why the losers in that lawsuit deserve any compensation for it.

2. That claim of 54,000 petition signatures is laughably inaccurate. They did claim to have “collected” that many petitions at the time, but after doing their own “verification” process, that number had dropped to 31,000. That was the total that was the starting point for all subsequent disputes. For them to make that “54,000 signatures” claim when they themselves threw out 23,000 of them before they even signed over their boxes should give you some idea of how ridiculous they are.

3. Or to put it another way, they continue to lie like cheap rugs about the whole thing, not just about their signature total but about what the law is and who we should be afraid of. They have lied, continuously and shamelessly, throughout this process – and largely gotten away with it in the reporting, too – to the point where one ought to be wondering “Isn’t lying, like, a sin?” The amount of lying, by professional religious people and those who abet them, remains the most amazing thing about this to me. It’s no wonder to me that the petitions that they did turn in were found to be so riddled with forgeries and other failures to comply with the law.

One would think based on all that that this latest effort would get laughed out of court, but at this point my faith is a little strained. Here’s Mayor Parker’s statement about this lawsuit. Council is set to have a vote affirming HERO today, which will put it on the ballot as expected. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

Pointless pastor protest

Where to even begin?

Some prominent Houston church leaders put their names on a full-page open letter to the U.S. Supreme Court in major U.S. newspapers, promising to defy the court should it decide same-sex marriage is a civil right.

Pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist Church, Pastor Dave Welch of the U.S. Pastor Council and Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Church were among more than 80 signatories on the letter orchestrated by former Pearland pastor Rick Scarborough. The letter was published last week in the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today.

“We’re not going to quietly allow this to happen,” said Scarborough, 65, now president of Vision America in Nacogdoches, Texas. “We’re going to stand up on our biblical roots as well as our constitutional roots and if it comes to a choice between obeying God and the state we will chose God.”

He also said doesn’t hate gay individuals and wants to “reach out with loving redemption.”

[…]

In the open letter, one sentence appears in bold-faced font: “We will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.”

Scarborough said that means churches and religiously-affiliated schools and hospitals will decline to participate in any part of a same-sex marriage. Predicting legal trouble, Scarborough pointed to a recent case of a 70-year-old florist in Washington state who faced a lawsuit after declining to provide flowers for the wedding of a long-time gay customer.

“We’ll go to jail before we participate [in same-sex marriage],” Scarborough said.

Do I really have to explain this? Is there anyone with at least a sixth grade education who isn’t being willfully ignorant who doesn’t understand that this is about states having to recognize civil marriages, and that religions and pastors will be as free to marry or not marry whoever they want to no matter what SCOTUS decides? I mean seriously, what self-respecting same-sex couple would get within a hundred miles of any of these jokers when searching for a celebrant for their vows? Assuming they wanted a religious service, of course. The whole point is that they don’t need a pastor for any of this, just a county clerk and a judge or JP. Honestly, short of chaining themselves to a courtroom door, I have no idea what these fools think they might be going to jail for. Their sense of heroic victimhood is truly impressive, I’ll give them that much. I plan to join with most of the rest of the country after the SCOTUS decision and ignore them and their silly antics as much as I reasonably can.

Pointless “pastor protection” bill comes to the House

From the Observer.

RedEquality

Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) said Wednesday he doesn’t plan to introduce an anti-gay marriage amendment to the so-called Pastor Protection Act scheduled for a House vote Thursday.

However, with 12 days remaining in the session, Bell said he continues to look for another means of resurrecting House Bill 4105, which was designed to undermine a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, and died on the House floor last week.

LGBT advocates feared Bell would attempt to add the provisions of HB 4105 to Senate Bill 2065, by Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), which would reaffirm that pastors and churches can’t be forced to participate in same-sex weddings. But Bell said he doesn’t believe such an amendment would be considered germane to SB 2065, aka the Pastor Protection Act, thus threatening the bill’s chances.

“A lot of work’s been done on that bill, and I don’t want to compromise that bill,” Bell told the Observer. “The intent is to assert the sovereignty of the state of Texas. If I can find a place to do that, then I’ll do that. But I’m not going to compromise the very structure and value system that I’m trying to affirm in that process.”

[…]

With other anti-LGBT legislation stalled, social conservatives have made SB 2065 a top priority in recent days. However, Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch acknowledged recently that its passage wouldn’t be a significant victory.

Supporters of SB 2065 have used committee hearings on the bill to give general testimony in opposition to same-sex marriage, which some witnesses compared to bestiality and pedophilia.

“It suggests that really the goal here to increase hostility and animosity toward gay and lesbian couples who want to get married, rather than to protect pastors from having to perform their marriages, because pastors are already protected from doing that if they don’t want to,” [Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network] said.

Nevertheless, if SB 2065 is the only unfavorable measure that passes out of more than 20 anti-LGBT proposals that were introduced, advocates won’t hang their heads.

“It’s certainly encouraging that some of the really bad bills appear to be going nowhere, and that the only bill that’s moving forward does essentially what the law already does,” Quinn said. “If we can get out of the session without any of those other bills passing, it would clearly be a big step forward.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Equality Texas had sent out an email alert about HB4105 being attached to SB2065 earlier in the day. I’m glad to see that turned out to be a false alarm. There are reasons to be concerned about SB2065 as is, and we can’t rest easy on HB4105 until the session is well and truly over, but so far so good. I’ll update this post if anything notable happens during the House debate.

Plano ERO repeal petitions ruled invalid

Wow.

The City of Plano has determined that a recently circulated Equal Rights petition is invalid and will not move forward. Plano’s City Secretary was unable to certify the petition because it failed to meet State and local requirements for validation.

On Dec. 8, 2014, the Plano City Council approved an Equal Rights Ordinance, expanding the city’s policy to prohibit discrimination against the following classes: U.S. military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity. The petition called for the city to either repeal that ordinance or submit it to the citizens for a vote.

The petition contained false information regarding the Equal Rights Ordinance, claiming it regulates bathrooms. The ordinance does not regulate bathrooms. By making this false representation, the Equal Rights petition asked signees to repeal an ordinance that does not exist.

Texas Election Code requires petitions submitted in cities located in two counties to include a column for the signee’s county of voter registration. Since Plano is in two counties, that column was mandatory. However, none of the petition pages included it.

The Plano City Charter requires petitions to include a copy of the legislation sought to be repealed or changed. The Equal Rights petition did not include an attachment of the ordinance.

On Dec. 30, three weeks prior to the deadline for the Equal Rights petition to be turned in, the city of Plano sent an email to the groups organizing the petition drive, including Texas Values, the U.S. Pastor Council and Plano Citizens United, to clarify information. It outlined problematic issues with the petition, including those aforementioned. The email read, ‘The city is providing information in an attempt to facilitate accuracy in referendum petitions to avoid any potential disputes regarding validity of signatures.’ Links were provided to the city of Plano Charter, Texas Election Code and petition information on the Secretary of State website. The city made a good faith attempt to avoid dispute and facilitate accuracy.

Nonetheless, not a single page of submitted petitions was valid.

Like I said, wow. I have a mighty low opinion of the characters involved in this effort, but even I wouldn’t have expect this. The DMN fills in some details.

If the petitions had been validated, the Plano City Council was scheduled to decide Monday on whether to repeal the ordinance or put it on the May 9 ballot.

Instead, said [Plano City Manager Bruce] Glasscock, the ordinance stands and the council will be briefed on the reasons why the petitions were found to be invalid.

“There are no other options for them,” Glasscock said, referring to organizers of the petition drive.

A referendum petition must be presented within 30 days after an ordinance is approved, according to the Plano City Charter. The Equal Rights Ordinance was approved Dec. 8. The deadline to submit petitions expired Jan. 20.

However, opponents of Houston’s LGBT rights ordinance sued the city after officials said that a petition drive failed to garner enough valid signatures.

Plano officials express confidence in their ability to fight any legal challenge.

“Over half of the petitions had false statements on them,” said Glasscock, referring to what he called an “egregious” misrepresentation of how the ordinance would affect public restrooms.

The petitions stated: “Also under this policy, biological males who declare their ‘gender identity’ as female MAY BE ALLOWED to enter women’s restrooms!”

The ordinance specifically excludes public restrooms, showers, locker rooms and dressing rooms. It states that it is not illegal to “deny the opposite sex access to facilities inside a public accommodation segregated on the basis of sex for privacy.”

By making this false representation, the petition asked residents to repeal an ordinance that didn’t exist, city officials said.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. The bathroom exemption was the reason why groups like the Trans Pride Initiative did not support the ordinance. As the Dallas Voice observed, this was the same gang that did such a stellar job with the Houston repeal petitions, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. I am sure that litigation will follow, but for now, let’s celebrate. KERA, the Scoop Blog, and Unfair Park have more.

The bigger threat than the Plano petitions

This could be a big problem.

RedEquality

Four Republican lawmakers from the Plano area plan to introduce legislation that would bar cities and counties from adopting ordinances prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, the Observer has learned. The proposed legislation also threatens to nullify existing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in cities that are home to roughly 7.5 million Texans—or more than one-quarter of the state’s population.

The bill comes in response to the Plano City Council’s passage last month of an equal rights ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“There is legislation that’s being worked on,” Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) told a group of pastors who gathered in mid-December at Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist Church in response to passage of the city’s equal rights ordinance, according to an audio recording obtained by the Observer.

[…]

Texas Pastor Council Executive Director David Welch, whose group is leading efforts to repeal equal rights ordinances in Plano and Houston, told the Observer the legislation would prohibit political subdivisions of the state from adding classes to nondiscrimination ordinances that aren’t protected under Texas or federal law—neither of which covers LGBT people.

“It should be a uniform standard statewide, and cities can’t just arbitrarily create new classes that criminalize a whole segment of the majority of the population,” Welch said. “It’s just self-evident that they’re going to try to do it city by city. We’re dealing with a broad public policy that creates criminal punishments. That’s a pretty serious issue, and when it’s based on a special agenda by a small, tiny fragment of the population … that’s a legitimate need and reason for the state Legislature to act.”

As I say, this as yet unfiled bill is a bigger threat than the petitions and the proposed constitutional amendments, since this would only need majority support to pass and would surely be signed into law by Greg “Local control means me in control” Abbott. I suppose we could hope that the business community, which is generally very favorable to municipal NDOs, might apply some pressure in Austin to stop this in its tracks. Given how effective they’ve been at dissuading their Republican buddies from doing other things they don’t like – you know, killing immigration reform, slashing funds for education and infrastructure, that sort of thing – it’s not a strategy I’d want to be dependent on.

Currently, the only state with a law prohibiting cities from enacting LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances is Tennessee. The Tennessee law, passed in 2011, prompted a lawsuit from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, but a state appeals court recently dismissed the case, saying plaintiffs didn’t have standing because they couldn’t show harm.

Shannon Minter, a Texas native who serves as legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he now plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the Tennessee ban.

Lawmakers in several other states have introduced proposals to ban local nondiscrimination ordinances, but none has passed. Minter said in the last few years anti-LGBT lawmakers have shifted to a religious freedom approach to counter local nondiscrimination ordinances because the strategy is more appealing politically.

“Because the Tennessee-style bill is so punitive toward all localities, I think that it’s so blatantly taking democratic power away from local governments that legislators just don’t have the stomach to do it,” Minter said.

The lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s law was based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans, which struck down a Colorado law banning local protections based on sexual orientation. Authors of the Tennessee bill attempted to to get around Romer v. Evans by enacting a general prohibition on classes that aren’t covered under state law, rather than specifically targeting LGBT protections. However, Minter believes the law is still unconstitutional.

“Legislatures are not permitted to enact laws that are designed to disadvantage a particular group, and it’s as clear as it could possibly be that the purpose of these laws is to prevent gay and transgender people from gaining local anti-discrimination protections,” he said.

Tennessee lawmakers introduced the legislation in response to a nondiscrimination ordinance in one city, Nashville, and Minter said the Texas proposals broader impact would also make it more vulnerable to legal challenges.

Yes, there’s the courts. One can’t know how that might play out, and even if one felt confident that any such law would be unconstitutional on its face, these things take time and cost money and leave a lot of people in harm’s way in the interim. These are the consequences of not winning enough elections. Keep your state rep on speed dial, you’re going to need to let him or her know how you feel about this. Texas Leftist and Unfair Park have more.

Working for progress on LGBT issues

I’m always a little wary when I see a phrase like “chipping away” in a story about LGBT issues, but in this case it refers to obstacles, not hard-won victories, so it’s OK.

RedEquality

The rights and interests of homosexual Texans will be in the spotlight like never before next year, as the state’s same-sex marriage ban gets a long-awaited hearing in federal court and lawmakers take up a slate of bills that address everything from employment and insurance discrimination to local equal rights ordinances.

“In Texas, it’s very difficult with the makeup of the Legislature to pass anything,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. “But it’s called chipping away – keep bringing the issue – until one day it passes.”

[…]

Daniel Williams, of Equality Texas, said he believes there is a “realistic opportunity” to pass legislation allowing both same-sex partners to be listed on birth certificates, and to remove a provision in state law that criminalizes sexual relationships between some same-sex teenagers.

Other bills have been filed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public school sex education classes, and for insurance companies and state contractors. Two bills, by [Sen. Jose] Rodriguez and his El Paso colleague Joe Moody, are seeking to remove from state law books an unconstitutional, unenforceable statute that criminalizes sodomy.

Williams also is interested to see whether Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will break with his predecessor by pushing state compliance with federal mandates to reduce the prison rape rate – which disproportionately impacts gay and transgender inmates – and whether more municipalities follow San Antonio, Houston and Plano’s lead in passing non-discrimination ordinances.

Don’t forget about Plano, too. There’s a reason all those hateful pastors are freaking out about this – they know they’re losing. Bills have been filed by Rep. Coleman and others to repeal Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and to fix the birth certificate problem as noted, and there’s a broader organization being formed to help press the case in Austin. That’s all good and necessary and I have some hope as well, but I suspect that once all is said and done simply not losing ground will be seen as a win with this Legislature.

As for Sen. Donna Campbell’s effort to supersede local efforts by filing a resolution that would block any local rule or state law that infringes on “an individual’s or religious organization’s … sincerely held religious belief,” advocates think the business community will come out against it as they did against similar legislation in Arizona.

“Yes, you can talk about taking power away from those local leaders, but there’s going to be a lot of pushback from the local elected officials and their constituents,” said Jeff Davis, chairman of the Texas chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national group made up of gay members of the GOP and their allies. He said Campbell’s resolution likely would generate “a lot of talk,” but he believes the effort “isn’t going to move completely forward.”

Meanwhile, religious leaders waging a legal battle against Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance are banking on the increasingly-conservative Legislature to support their efforts. While they await a 2015 court date to determine whether enough signatures were gathered to force a local referendum on the Houston ordinance, they have turned their eyes to Plano, which passed a similar ordinance earlier this month.

“These ordinances are solutions looking for a problem,” said David Welch, director of the Houston-based Texas Pastors Council, which filed a petition against the Plano ordinance this week. “It is a special interest group representing a tiny fraction of the population using the power of law to impose their lifestyle and punish those that disagree with them.”

He said the council will continue to work with lawmakers on legislation that could undo these ordinances at the state level, as well as reaffirm current law that enshrines marriage as between one man and one woman.

It would be nice if the business lobby puts some pressure on to kill not just Campbell’s bill but all of the pro-discrimination bills that Campbell and others are filing, but don’t expect me to have any faith in their efforts. At least as far as constitutional amendments go, there are enough Democrats to keep them off the ballot, barring any shenanigans or betrayals. It would be nice to think that Republicans can play a key role in preserving existing protections, if not expanding them, but there’s no evidence to support that idea at this time with this Legislature. We need to win more elections, that’s all there is to it. Let’s make it through this session unscathed and get started working on that part of it ASAP. BOR has more.

Houston pastors to fight against the Plano equal rights ordinance

Of course they will.

PetitionsInvalid

When Houston passed its Equal Rights Ordinance earlier this year, the Texas Pastor Council came out strongly in opposition of the law.

Now the Houston-based group is challenging the nondiscrimination ordinance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents of Plano. Director Dave Welch says the group will work with pastors in the area to try to repeal the ordinance. He says law places unnecessary restrictions on businesses.

“There’s no evidence of any discrimination at all,” Welch says. “These categories are vague and undefined and place criminal penalties on something [businesses] can’t even defend themselves over.”

[…]

The Pastor Council plans to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn Plano’s new law. A similar move in Houston has led to an ongoing legal battle over the Equal Rights Ordinance, which has yet to be enforced.

See here for the background. Not really much to add here, as this is the usual dishonest fearmongering we know and shake our heads in disgust at here. I don’t know what Plano’s rules are for trying to repeal an ordinance, but I’d advise Welch and his band of chuckleheads to be a bit more careful about following the rules this time. Actually, it’s fine by me if they don’t, so consider this a word of advice for Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and the good guys that will be defending the equal rights ordinance at the ballot box and/or in the courthouse: Don’t assume these clowns are following the rules. If they can cut a corner, they will. Hold them accountable for it, and be ready for the whining when you do.

HERO repeal effort falls short

Too bad, so sad (not really).

PetitionsInvalid

Opponents of Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance did not get enough valid signatures to force a November repeal referendum, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman announced Monday.

“With respect to the referendum petition filed to repeal the ‘HERO’ ordinance, there are simply too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook,” Feldman said. “The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion.”

The council approved the ordinance on an 11-6 vote in May. Opponents who took issue with the protections extended to gay and transgender people under the ordinance promised to send the issue to the voters. On July 3, they claimed to have delivered more than 50,000 signatures to the city secretary’s office.

Opponents needed a minimum of 17,269 valid signatures – 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election – to put a referendum on the November ballot. Feldman said some of the petition gatherers did not satisfy the requirements set out for such petitions in the city charter, such as by not being registered Houston voters or by not signing the petition themselves. If such requirements were not met, he said, all the signatures the circulator gathered were invalid.

Less than half of the more than 5,000 pages opponents submitted were valid, Feldman said, leaving the final valid tally at 15,249 signatures.

The bad guys may have claimed to have turned in over 50,000 signatures, but as noted yesterday, the number they subsequently claimed to have validated on their own was much lower than that. You can see the memo from the City Secretary and City Attorney’s offices here, with the latter spelling out the reasons why each individual page was invalidated and how many signatures were on them.

Needless to say, there will be litigation to force this onto the ballot. Mayor Parker has acknowledged the inevitability of this before and does so again in her press release. We are rapidly approaching the deadline for any referendum or measure to be put on a ballot – according to the Secretary of State, that deadline is Monday, August 18, 78 days before Election Day. I have no idea what the chances are of getting a definitive answer by then. I do find it amusing that one of the head haters, Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastors Council, is claiming that they have “already assembled the top elections law attorneys in the state to review this” because by all the accounts I’ve heard the petition effort was incredibly sloppy. I mean, go back and look at those memos – you’ve got page after page of petitions being invalidated for not being signed by the circulator, or having only an illegible signature with no corresponding printed name by a circulator. How amateur night is that? They really needed to have those Top Men working on this at the beginning, not just now.

Anyway. You can still see the petitions themselves by searching Scribd for “hero petition” if you want to cross-check the City Attorney’s work. This isn’t over by a long shot – it’s certainly possible that a court could decide that the city was being too nitpicky in its review, or that some of the requirements in the charter are unconstitutional, or just that we should cut these poor bastards some slack, I don’t know. We’ll know more when we see the lawsuit that they file. KTRK, Equality Texas, Equal Rights Houston, Lone Star Q, Texas Leftist, and BOR have more.

UPDATE: More from ThinkProgress. And no, CultureMap, it’s not a bad thing that voters won’t be “allowed” to vote on whether or not to let discrimination continue to be legal.

Petition deadline coming

Scott Braddock takes a look at the petition effort to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which must turn in its homework this week.

Opponents led by longtime – and now former because he was recently ousted – Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill are working to turn in at least 17,000 signatures of Houston residents by next Monday. If they can do that and the signatures are verified, the issue will be on track to cause all kinds of additional heat in Houston with potential statewide implications.

On the surface, this would seem to be a classic liberal versus conservative argument playing out at the local level. But one possible statewide consequence has do with Woodfill’s role in the fight coupled with speculation that he’d like to be the next Republican Party of Texas chairman. Meantime, the placement of what’s been framed as a gay-rights issue on the November ballot could be used by Democrats to push their voters to the polls in the state’s largest city during a non-presidential year.

[…]

Woodfill and others ominously call it a “sexual predator act.” As he and other opponents put it on this website: “It will by government decree open thousands of women’s restrooms, showers and girls locker rooms in the city to biological males! Predators and peepers can use it as cover to violate our women and children!”

Now working alongside Steve Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas, Woodfill told Quorum Report on Monday that his group is confident they’ll have enough signatures in time to meet the deadline. “We can’t afford to wait. Lives are at risk,” Woodfill said. “It’s about the safety of our wives and daughters and kids.”

See here and here for the background. According to TFN Insider, the due date is Thursday, July 3. The hate squad known as the Houston Area Pastors Council was ginning up one last Sunday effort; Woodfill had previously requested that petitions be returned by June 27, which was last Friday. I don’t know if that’s a sign they’re having trouble getting enough valid signatures or if they’re aiming to turn in an impressive amount of them. They need about 17,000 valid sigs, which isn’t that high a bar to clear, and pretty much everyone expects them to do so.

Woodfill declined to comment on growing speculation that he may be using the issue to position himself as the “conservative choice” for the next chairman of the Texas Republican Party. He stepped down as Harris County Chairman earlier this month after losing to challenger Paul Simpson. Voters in Houston could be forgiven, though, for not noticing Woodfill is no longer chairman given the amount of email blasts he is still sending out regularly about the ordinance. “This isn’t about anybody’s personality,” Woodfill said. “This is about the issue.”

For his part, Simpson said he supports the effort to overturn the ordinance and, he added, the county party leadership is in a state of transition. “I think repealing it is appropriate,” Simpson said.

Dear sweet baby Jesus, please let that incompetent boob Jared Woodfill be the next RPT Chair. It would be the best thing that could ever happen to them.

Some observers have said in a general election season when Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft Worth, needs to charge up her base in her bid for governor, this issue in Houston could give her specifically and Democrats broadly a boost. It is, of course, not likely that supporters of gay-rights would vote for Republicans if they do indeed show up at the polls this fall to make their voices heard about the ordinance.

“I think that’s right,” said University of Houston Political Scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. If Democrats are looking for ways to energize their base, the equal rights ordinance “would have to be on their list,” he said. Rottinghaus cautioned Democrats, however, that the issue is a double-edged sword. “They may want to use that as their tool to generate interest” but the problem is some reliably Democratic groups like many African-Americans and a significant percentage of Hispanics don’t have a traditional liberal view of gay rights, he said.

“There are opportunities for the Democrats to make this work and there’s also the potential there could be a serious backlash,” Rottinghaus said. Conservatives will also turn out with intensity to oppose the ordinance, he said.

Political Science Chair at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Jon Taylor, was more blunt in his assessment. He asked “Why give Democrats a reason to come out in November?” Taylor is a Republican and has long criticized Woodfill for his fiery brand of politics. “Do you really want to give extra ammunition to the opposition?” Taylor said. “Totally unnecessary. It is time to back off.”

PDiddie and I have talked about this before. I’ll say again, I don’t fear this fight. It sucks to have to engage in it, but if they want to bring it, then let’s get it on. I didn’t need any more motivation to vote and engage this fall, but I’m happy for there to be more. Let’s see what they’ve got for their signatures, and let’s get ready to rumble.

On bathrooms and menaces

Nonsequiteuse has something to say.

Steven Hotze, M.D., recently published these outright lies about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance:

Mayor Parker’s ordinance would include minority status for the so called “transgendered,” allowing a biological male to legally enter women’s public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower areas and expose himself to women and girls or just ogle them like a peeping Tom. All he has to claim is that he “thinks of himself as a woman.”

I want to protect my wife, daughters and granddaughters from being exposed to the dangers of male sexual predators masquerading as women in women’s public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities. Don’t you want the same for your wife, daughters and granddaughters? Shame on Mayor Parker and city council for passing an ordinance that would put women and children at risk from sexual predators. That is why it is referred to as the Sexual Predators Protection Ordinance.

Shame on Steven Hotze for deliberately and willfully lying about the ordinance.

Let me break this down for you.

  • The ordinance does allow transgender people to enter public bathrooms.
  • Someone who is biologically male, but who lives life presenting herself as a woman, is considered to be a transgender woman, or transwoman. This person would use the same bathroom as a cisgender woman, or ciswoman, which is a woman who was both born biologically a woman and who presents herself to the world as a woman.
  • Transgender people have to use the bathroom for the very same reasons cisgender people do, and they have to do so when out in public for the exact same reasons, too.
  • A transman or transwoman using a bathroom is NOT committing a crime by being in a bathroom and utilizing the plumbing fixtures therein.
  • A transwoman or transman is NOT committing a crime by being a transgender person.
  • A person who enters a bathroom to commit a crime IS a criminal.
  • A person’s gender identity is irrelevant to any criminal intent or action. In other words, you are a criminal for committing a crime regardless of your gender.
  • A man who puts on a dress in order to commit a crime is not transgender. Such a person is a criminal using a disguise that he hopes will allow him to evade detection and apprehension.
  • “Thinking of himself as a woman” is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, an affirmative defense to charges that a crime has been committed. The ordinance does not create such an affirmative defense, and never tried to do so.

Calling this equal rights ordinance a “sexual predator protection ordinance” is a deliberate attempt to scare and mislead people. This ordinance does not exempt any person or class of people from criminal penalties for committing criminal acts.

She has more, so go read the rest. If Steven Hotze is genuinely concerned about sexual predators in his midst, he’s not looking in the right places for them. Or maybe he should look closer to home.

We now know why Houston’s 311 director lost his job.

Kendall Baker was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation. Afterwards, Baker, who is also a minister, spoke out against Houston’s equal rights ordinance saying it would allow predators into women’s restrooms.

Baker is a member of the Houston Area Pastors Council. Just a few weeks ago, Pastor Baker addressed Mayor Annise Parker as he spoke against Houston’s equal rights ordinance during public comment.

“I say to you, what if I came into the bathroom while you were sitting on the toilet? Wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable?” Baker asked.

But city records show Baker was placed on indefinite suspension from the city, after the Office of the Inspector General reportedly found Baker had sexually harassed subordinate female employees.

Baker was among the multitude of candidates that ran for At Large #3 in the 2007 special election. Just as well he didn’t get elected, I’d say.

One last thing. I don’t know how well the petition effort to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is going. It’s not that high a bar to clear, and there are sadly plenty of people out there who think like Steven Hotze and Kendall Baker, so I won’t be surprised if they succeed. It should be noted that the petitions, if they do get filed with the City Secretary, become public documents. If there are any closet supporters of repeal out there, the only way they can stay in that closet is to not sign one of those petitions. Just FYI.

Post HERO, watch for the petition drives

Here’s the full Chron story about the passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. I’m going to skip ahead in the story and focus on what the haters are saying and planning to do.

Opponent Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastors Council, said his group will begin gathering signatures against the ordinance to trigger a referendum seeking its repeal this November. The group would need to gather roughly 17,000 signatures – or 10 percent of turnout in last fall’s mayoral race – in the next 30 days.

“Once we correct this grievous act through the ballot this fall,” Welch said in a statement, “we will then remind those members that patronizing a tiny interest group and outgoing mayor instead of serving the people leads to a short political career.”

[…]

Houston voters twice have rejected protections or benefits for gays, in 1985 and in 2001.

The most recent vote was spearheaded by Houston Community College trustee and longtime anti-gay advocate Dave Wilson, who said he plans to gather signatures to seek a recall election against “three or four” council members who voted yes.

Only the number of signatures equivalent to one-quarter of the votes cast for mayor in a given council district are required, which Wilson said makes some districts with poor turnout particularly ripe targets.

The signatures must be gathered within a 30-day period and a recall petition must list grounds related to “incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office.” The target of such a petition could then object, triggering a vote of the City Council on whether the grounds are sufficient. City Attorney David Feldman said the city’s 100-year-old recall process has never been used, and added a single ordinance vote would not be valid grounds.

“Some people say it’s intimidation, et cetera, but I look at it as accountability,” Wilson said, adding he views Feldman as a biased source. “People are elected to represent their district. They’re not up there to propagate their own personal views.”

Wilson said he also is gathering the signatures needed to seek a charter amendment banning a biological man from using a women’s restroom. The ordinance passed Wednesday offers such a protection for transgender residents citywide, as does an executive order Parker signed in 2010 applying to city facilities.

The earliest a charter vote could appear would be May 2015, but Feldman said such an effort may be too relevant to the ordinance passed Wednesday, meaning the signatures gathered would need to fall within the 30-day window.

A petition to repeal the ordinance would require fewer than half the signatures needed to mount a recall effort against Mayor Parker. That’s a more attainable target, but we’ll see how it goes. As I said before, I don’t fear any of this. It’ll be a fight, but we have the numbers, we have the will, and we have the pleasure of being in the right.

It seems clear that anything other than a straight repeal effort within the 30 day time frame will generate a court fight. I rally don’t know how much weight to put on the wording of the petition versus the lack of any mention of grounds for recall elsewhere in the charter. I’d hate to have it come down to a judge’s ruling on that.

By the way, you know who’s an unsung hero in all this? Ben Hall, that’s who. Thanks to Ben Hall, Mayor Parker took the 2013 election a bit more seriously than the 2011 election, and drove up turnout to near-2009 levels as a result. If turnout in 2013 had been the same as in 2011, the haters would only need about 27,000 signatures to get the recall process started instead of the 42,500 they need now, and they’d need fewer than 11,000 sigs to force the repeal referendum instead of 17,000. So thanks, Ben Hall! You did something good with your campaign! Hair Balls, Juanita, BOR, Texas Leftist, Free Press Houston, and TransGriot have more.